Trinity Theological College: One good reason


trinityHere is a very good reason why Trinity Theological College (Perth, Western Australia) is a great option for theological studies.

In the clip below Dr Matthew Malcolm talks about how TTC approaches the study of the New Testament.

His person blog can be located here.

And of course the Trinity Theological College website can be found here.

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9 Days to Christmas… A time to serve


ice bear fallThis morning we climbed down the steps from out first floor apartment to walk to church.

Katie’s first step outside the door nearly ended in tears (of pain for Katie and laughter for us) as she slipped and slid like a rookie roller-skater.

By the time we all got on the ice we were only able to walk (a generous description of what we were doing) 20 meters in about 15mins.  At that rate we would have missed the service, and the evening service if they had one.   So we turned around and slipped all the way home.

What to do?  Umm, hello, St. Matt’s uniChurch podcast… bring on Jeff Hunt on Mark.  If you haven’t been tuning in then give it a crack.  It’s been great.

st matsI’m up to the September sermon on Mark 9:30-10:31.  What did it have to do with Christmas?  Nothing, but much in many ways.

Jeff’s big idea was that to be great is actually to be small.

To be small is to not claim greatness as the disciples were doing in secret.  To be small is to not be like the rich young ruler who was characterised by his wealth and submission to it.   To be small is to not be like the disciples who turned the children away from Jesus in an attempt to de-clutter Jesus’ life with un-importants.

To be great is not about assumed titles of greatness, pockets full of money, position or age.

To be great is to be small, like a child, generous, submissive and humble.  To be the greatest is to be the servant of all, which Jeff pointed out is what we see in Jesus’ fatal yet not fatal cross-work.

At this time of the year we also understand Jesus’ servant nature in his incarnation.  The Apostle Paul points to this very fact in Philippians 2.  But what Paul does is fabulous.  He couches Jesus’ condescension within the scope of the purpose for his coming.

He became a servant to serve.

For this reason the Christmas story is about the cross.  Check out Paul here in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Christmas is a time to share the great message that Jesus came to be the servant of all.

Racism: The Christian Way


Racism, in my mind, is one of the most grotesque distortions of the Gospel that we can find in the modern church.

Ok, so that was a pretty strong statement to start a post for a Saturday afternoon, but this one’s been brewing for some time.  Racism in the church is something that must be denounced in the strongest terms because it not only contradicts the content of the Gospel, but also undermines the impact of the gospel in the areas where racism and the Gospel coexist.

Firstly, racism is a form of self-centredness.  

Racism speaks more about the racist person and their needs and desires rather than about the person or group being marginalised by the racist.  The concept of racism relies upon a basic principle that can be observed everyday in a school playground, which for our purposes we will call the I’m Normal Your Not principle

It goes like this: Johnny calls Timmy fat and Timmy cries.  The issue here is that Johnny has constructed a norm that of course he himself fits into and which Timmy does not (no pun intended).

Normality is the issue.  What is normal and who fits that definition?  And who decides what is normal and who fits into it?

The problem lies within the view that to be normal is to be normal, which is just not the case.  In other words, as soon as any given individual slips from the realm of normal-ness they become not normal, which is code for being deficient or sub-human in some measure.  The dynamic between Johnny and Timmy is clear.  Once Timmy slips from the realm of normal because of his weight problem Johnny continues to exist in his normal state.  Due to Timmy’s slip, Johnny by default becomes superior.

Johnny is normal and therefore superior.

The point however is not the normal vs not normal dynamic per se, but the deliberate orchestration of this dynamic in order to gain the superior (normal) status.  How can this be orchestrated?  Easy.  Observe those characteristics in another person that are different from you due to their race (or whatever!) and then isolate and articulate these as not normal.  The result is that you will be normal and superior to the person that is different to you.

Well, that’s how they think anyway.

We can stoop lower still.  It is not uncommon to hear professing Christians isolate a particular race with the social circumstances that the marginalised often find themselves in.  So, smelling badly, not being able to think as one educated (whatever that means) and dressing poorly is synonymous with – those that are not normal.  Not only are they a lower class of being because of their racial identity, but they feel the brunt of some Christians’ ire because they smell, speak poorly and/or dress shabbily.

This deliberate use of race and associated social characteristics are highlighted by racists out of self-interest, which flies in the face of the most basic Christian teaching.

I was told the other day by a fellow Christian friend that he was not obligated to love gypsies.  Hmmm… well, that news to me!  Was Jesus just joking around when he said, ‘Love you neighbour as yourself’?  Was Jesus just engaging in the optional extra duties when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well?  And what do we make of his eating with the tax collectors and other rabble?  What?  That was Jesus, but that is not our responsibility?

Of course not!

That Christians would treat other Christians of a different race in such a belittling manner because they look, smell, sound different is disgusting.  Such egoism and self-centredness is far removed from the kind of interaction that Jesus teaches his followers to engage in.

Secondly, racism demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Gospel.

Of late, me and my friend Vlado have been working our way through Ephesians 2 and 3.  One of the  distinct themes that you cannot miss (well, clearly you can!) is that Jesus has broken down the race barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles.   Reconciliation (among other things) with God is made available to all through Jesus Christ.  It’s pretty clear when we read this snazzy passage:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.  I (Paul) became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things (Ephesians 3:6-9).

Racism is the turning back of the clock.  Racism strips the Gospel of its sheer beauty.  Racism grabs what Jesus has done away with and shoves it back into the spotlight and proclaims, ‘This is important!’  Racism builds a dividing wall of hostility (see 2:14), and implements the law with its commands and regulations (see 2:15).  There is not one in Christ but many: me, the racially superior creation, and you, the sub-par version.

The spiritual poverty of this view of the Gospel is far worse than any material poverty that some Gypsy will ever live through!

Thirdly, racism misunderstands church and eschatology.

The final eschatological (end times) scene is one of corporate worship.  Have a look at Revelations 7:9-10 at the picture that the writer creates for us.  He makes specific reference to those praising the Lamb as consisting of all sorts.  And they are together:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice...

The picture is one of corporate worship of God; a gathering of many for one purpose, which is not a phenomenon that we see only in the eschaton.  The church partially realises this future reality in the present, which the New Testament is constantly talking about.  The variables that we read about are predictable: young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentiles.  This is the composition of the church in the eschaton and in the present.

For goodness sake, the heart of Paul’s letters were often addressing the discontent and doctrinal error that was found between the Jews and Gentiles.  And how quickly do we forget Paul’s courageous rebuke of Peter for separating himself from Gentiles when eating.  Multiculturalism is not a social engineering fad of the 90’s, but a Gospel reality in the future and present!

It is not enough to merely placate this idea, to agree, to nod.  After Paul’s rebuke, Peter needed to rearrange his theology, his life, and his actions.  He needed a new understanding of race in light of the Gospel.  In our churches today many pastors agree that racism is bad, yet their churches do not reflect this commitment.  I’ve been told that some pastors chase away those of different races because the other church members feel uncomfortable and have threatened to leave.

My response to these pastors is simple: let them leave!

Please God spare us the day that our pastors (myself included) care more about keeping people in pews rather than being faithful to the Gospel and the implications of it.  The church is not a place that should engage with or perpetuate racism in any shape or form because it undermines the very foundation of the church – the Gospel.

Racism is a blight on God’s church because, if understood rightly as self-centred elitism, it is the antithesis of Jesus’ message and cross-work.  We would do well to remember Paul’s proclamation of Jesus’ humility before God his father in Philippians 2:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mindDo nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselvesnot looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

A Christ-Centred Death


I’ve never stared at death in the face.

How would I react if I did?

Would I run?  Would I be afraid?  Would I buy books on healing?  Would I seek out those who claim to be healers and pray that they really are what they claim?  Would I pray for healing?  Would I yell at God?  Would I turn my back on God for his lack of love?  Would I embrace death?  Would I run to it?

Hmmm…

A theology of death – not often talked about, never preached about, but surely discussed and pondered by those facing death itself.  It must be an important doctrine to have worked out in our minds because at some stage it will be the reality that not only consumes our bodies but also out minds and hearts.

As a believer how should I die?

Of course in right relationship with the creator, but I’m alluding to what might be construed as something un-spiritual, although I would argue it is not.  The world of ethics in the final years, months, days, hours of life.  It’s an uneasy location to dwell conceptually, but the value of having such things worked out must surely be worth the uneasiness that it brings.

Our deaths have ethical implications.

In this age I can engage with all manner of technology and medical innovation to prolong life, but at what expense?  There is of course the obvious(?) dollar value that we can place on staying alive.  At what stage do we measure that cost against the cost of prolonging other lives (plural)?  My life for many?  When (if it is right to do so) should one question whether the resources being used to keep one alive is selfish or not?

I can see that I could easily take a stand on the exorbitant use of resources for padding out my life in health, but in the face of death see the need to use exorbitant resources to maintain life.  Should I seek to be consistent in this instance?  This is just the tip of the ethical iceberg.

Hmmm…

Ethics and theology should mix.

I think it is here that one’s questioning has the potential to steer them away from a hitting part of the discussion.  I tend to default to the question, ‘What value do I give to life?,’ but I think this is only part of the questioning process.  The other part to ask is, ‘What value do I give to death?’  As believers how can we divorce the two questions?

Is this divorce shaped more by a love for earthly life and from being captured by an unbiblical concept of death, which the first picture above captures? Death is portrayed as dark, evil and final.  Death is understood in this way as a conqueror of life.  Life is no match for death.

And so we cling to life and resist death at all costs – time, financial, emotional, and relational.

Death will not win!

Snap!  We finally hit the nail on the head.  Death will not win!  Exactly!  This is the location where our ethic and theology collide.

Could it be the case that the time that we spend dwelling on the theological concepts of eternal rest, life in Christ, new creation, etc, prior to death’s calling, are given away at the time of their greatest relevance?  How should eternal rest shape the way that we die?  How should eternal life with the risen Christ impact the way that we spend money in our final days?  How should our expectation to be a part of the new creation shape the way that we live out our relationships in our final days?

I’m not sure how they should, but surely they should.  I’m not sure if I could, but surely I should.  Time will one day tell.

Furthermore, we are not left on our own to sort out this theological and ethical difficulty.  The Apostle Paul stared death in the face numerous times (2 Cor. 11:21-29), but he did not flinch – he stared it down.  For him death had lost its sting.  It was powerless.  It had no command over Paul.  In fact, Paul runs forward to death as though it is a goal.  He would prefer to be at home with the Lord and away from his body (2 Cor. 5:8).  What to do?  Hang around and serve God or depart to be with the Lord?  He’s torn.  What’s better?  To be with Christ is better by far he tells us (Phil. 1:22-23).

For Paul, death is not about darkness, finality and the evil grim-reaper, but something much more positive.  The moment and anticipation of death is for Paul saturated with joy not anguish, hope not sorrow, and life not death.  His life till the end can be uncompromisingly Christ-centered because he knows that death loses in his death because he is alive in Christ.

Our death in the face of life needs to be Christ-centred.

PS.  If you’ve had a close encounter with death I’d really appreciate your thoughts or feedback on this post:)